Ray Johnson buys shoes at J.C. Penney
To haunt a beach
Where a gull he names
Stalks a horseshoe crab named
“Why don’t you walk sideways?”
The gull asks the crab.
Because I cannot fly.
“Want me to teach you?” Asks
I could get crabby. “What
great shoes you have,”
Robin tells Ray.
I cannot swim with them.
Crab: A bug once said to an ox:
How come a big strong fellow like you
Is content to serve mankind
And do all their hard work for them
While I, who am no bigger than you see,
Live on their bodies
And drink my fill of their blood,
And never do a stroke at all.
To which the ox replied:
“Men are very kind to me
And so I am grateful to them--
They feed and house me well
And every now and then they show their love
By patting me on the neck.”
“They’d pat me too” said the bug
“If I let them, but I take care they
Don’t, or there’d be
Is that the ox who --
--who was yoked with a horse.
The farmer whipped his poor makeshift team
Across the stubble field
The whole hot April day.
As the sun finally set
And the yoke and muzzle dropped
The horse asked the ox
‘Who will carry the ploughman home?’
The ox had surprise written
On his face: Why
you to be sure of course.
“Yuh, that’s the same ox,”
Said the crab, in whose mouth
Appeared a toothpick.
“Started to lose weight.
The farmer has a mean dog
Who likes to sleep in the manger
And whenever the ox
Goes to eat
He growls and snaps and won’t let him.’’
“What a selfish beast!” said Robin
“He can’t eat oats and yet
Won’t let those eat who can.
What’s this dog’s name?”
“Ashbery,” answered the crab.
“Oh Ashbery,” said Ray.
“He’s given me a lot of trouble too.
I used to visit the grape arbor
With the intention of repast
And Ashbery would bark
And I’d have to run off, hungry.
But I now believe those grapes are sour.”
“Things always work out,” said the crab.
“Uh hun, uh hun,” said Ray.
Calling John Ashbery a dog-in-the-manger in 1976 was a bad politico-literary political move. Ashbery had stood me up for an interview and I thought that was a witty way of expressing my displeasure. It took him many years to forgive me
Just for the sake of comparison, my own “study” of Aesop follows my common practise of couplets with a lone line as fulcrum. Couplets are a stock poetic form. I adapt six fables to the contemporary art and literary scene as I saw it as a young man twenty five years ago. John Cage was already besieged by requests from editors and publishers and created his esoteric version of the acrostic to mystify and ultimately, perhaps, discourage the publishers. Imitating Ezra Pound and John Cage, we can all be re-write men.